Posts tagged ‘albums of the year’
Well, 2016 was a right pile of shit, wasn’t it? Luckily, there was some fucking great music released, to relieve the pain just a little. Some of it might even be… important?
This here blog has long been a once-annual affair. Just an albums-of-the-year post every December, banged out in an hour or two. The writing may well be pretentious gobbledegook; the grammar and punctuation almost certainly aren’t 100% correct; you can pretty much guarantee a few serious factual errors…
But the music is fantastic and that’s what matters.
Right now, the current state of the world has to make you wonder if there will be an internet – or even a planet – upon which to publish this sort of list, come December 2017. And even if we’re left with anything more than a smouldering pile of ashes, won’t such things nevertheless appear appallingly trivial?
For now though, the question for list compilers everywhere has to be: What sort of album could possibly top an AotY chart in such an unceasingly bleak and unsettling context?
Top 10 Albums of the Year
1. Shirley Collins – Lodestar (Domino) LP
An album like this, it turns out. One of the most distinctive voices in English folk music makes her first album in over three decades and it has just the right mixture of brutality and compassion to divine some kind of sense from the world around us. That voice is even more distinctive now, sounding like creaking oak timbers on one of the many ships featured throughout this nautically-obsessed collection. Aside from boats, the main theme of the album is death – and the chillingly sparse, beautifully recorded arrangements are more than appropriate for this subject matter. But at 81, Shirley Collins certainly doesn’t seem ready to slip from this here mortal coil. On Lodestar, she sounds invincibly stoic – like she could quite happily sit out another three decades; like she could wait out a nuclear winter.
2. Trim – 1-800 Dinosaur Presents Trim (1-800 Dinosaur) 2LP
Grime’s finest emcee finally makes the experimental album he’s always had in him. The lyrics are as hilarious and bizarre as ever and the slooow beats – by a bunch of James Blake-associate nerds – push the plastic presets and clipped drums associated with classic grime right to brink of entropy. This is a landmark release both inside and outside the genre, so those of you with a prejudice against all things grimy in the 2010s need to knock it of a just listen.
3. Autechre – Elseq 1-5 (Warp) 5xDL
Massive, ridiculous, unmanageable and utterly singular in its alien brilliance. A five-hour stream of brain-scrambling digital abstraction that seems insurmountable at first – it opens with a barrage of percussive insanity and features several tracks that push well past the 20-minute mark. Still, there’s enough simple beauty lurking on Elseq‘s 3 and 4 in particular to lure fans of the Manchester duo’s early work (which itself got a welcome vinyl reissue this year).
4. Biosphere – Departed Glories (Smalltown Supersound) 2LP
An unusually sparse collection of highly-processed ambience makes for Biosphere’s best LP. In the past, there’s always been something a bit corny about Biosphere – all that film dialogue, for starters! But that’s generally been a big part of the appeal, to be honest. Here, the sound is austere and any hint of corn is scrubbed right out. But nothing is missing. The panoramic scope and awestruck wonder are broader and deeper than ever.
5. Trembling Bells – Wide Majestic Aire (Tin Angel) LP
Folk-rock throwback business that is more than redeemed by its consistently excellent tunes. You can’t underestimate the power of a good tune, really. In recent years Jim O’Rourke and Mark Van Hoen have managed to elevate albums that should have sounded insufferably cheesy or played-out, simply by loading them with gorgeous, unforgettable melodies. Aside from being inherently hard-to-resist when done well, this approach creates a context for the continued exploration of styles that might normally lead you to wonder if people are really still doing that. On “Swallows of Carbeth”, Trembling Bells sound almost laughably like classic-era Fairport Convention. But oh what a tune!
6. Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force – Yermande (Ndagga) LP
The Basic Channel guy successfully fuses his dub-techno genius with Senegalese funk. It’s astonishingly well realized, with Ernestus stripping the sound back to reveal its perplexing rhythmic intricacies and make ample room for its haunting melodic beauty to become all-encompassingly cinematic. ME has been absolutely on fire recently. In particular, his remixes of Nigeria’s Obadikah are essential listening for those of you craving something in the vein of classic Rhythm & Sound.
7. Westside Gunn – Flygod (Daupe!) 2LP
A harshly thrilling update of the 90s golden age hip-hop sound, straight outta Buffalo. In a sense, this seems to be about as far away from the Shirley Collins album as you could get. And yet both deal with violence in a way that is as horrifically surreal and dispiritingly mundane as it is when you’re unfortunate enough to encounter it IRL. Bottom line: both albums are truly great folk art that make deep-rooted traditions sound fresh and vital.
8. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris (Editions Mego) LP
Combining 80s film soundtracks and afrobeat rhythms to audaciously brilliant effect.
9. Paul Jebanasam – Continuum (Subtext) LP
A galaxy-shattering wedge of cinematic electronica.
10. Pita – Get In (Editions Mego) LP
The Mego boss is back with a typically confrontational collection of electronic abstractions.
And here’s a bunch more stuff…
The Next 10
11. Matt Elliott – The Calm Before (Ici d’Ailleurs) LP
12. Scott Walker – The Childhood of a Leader (4AD) LP
13. Roly Porter – Third Law (Tri Angle) 2×12”
14. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto & Bryce Dessner - The Revenant (New Regency Music) 2LP
15. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai (self-released) LP
16. Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald – Borderland: Transport (Tresor) 2LP
17. Loscil – Monument Builders (Kranky) 2LP
18. Monolake – VLSI (Imbalance Computer Music) 2LP
19.Oval – Popp (Uovooo) LP
20. Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger (Drag City) LP
If you think Elseq is hard to handle, try messing with Stephan Mathieu’s monumental 12CD work-in-progress Radiance. There’s every reason to suspect that the six volumes of Radiance to emerge so far might constitute one (or six) of the albums of the year. But it’s all a bit much to take in. Maybe the holiday season will provide some time for more in-depth investigations into the nature of this particular monolith. In the meantime, here’s a handful of other really excellent albums to which you should lend your ears…
- Yves Tumor – Serpent Music
- 3/4hadbeeneliminated – Speak to Me
- Sarah Davachi – Dominions
- Demdike Stare – Wonderland
- Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry
- Fis – From Patterns to Details
- Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni – Les Filles de Illighadad
- Tim Hecker – Love Streams
- Hieroglyphic Being – The Discos of Imhotep
- Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée
- Kiki Hitomi – Karma No Kusari
- Eric Holm – Barotrauma
- Ian William Craig – Centres
- Jem Circs – s/t
- Kel Assouf – Tikounen
- Nicolas Krgovich – The Hills
- Klara Lewis – Too
- Ramzi – Phobiza Dia: Vol. 1
- Seekrs International – Lovers Dedication Station
- Tumastin – Amanar
- Valerio Tricoli – Clonic Earth
- Zomby – Ultra
Singles, EPs, Tapes etc.
- Secret Pyramid – Distant Works II tape
This one is unmissable. A pretty under-the-radar release by Vancouver’s true king of emotive drone-scapes, which you should not allow to pass under your own personal radar because it’s the best thing he’s ever done. Plenty of people are doing the crybaby drone thing right now and most of them fall into the same generic traps, time and time again. This release avoids those traps very deftly indeed. It’s as smart at is sad but track five will, nevertheless, leave you in absolute tatters.
- Mark Ernestus vs. Obadikah – April 10″
- Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden I 10″
- Burial – Young Death/Nightmarket 12″
- Sleaford Mods – TCR 12”
- Horsetail – Hollow Sea DL
- Farmers Manual – glague general gen DL
- Loscil – Sine Studies 2 7”
- Karl Fousek – Pattern Variation tape
- Fousek/Hansen/Tellier-Craig – No Sound Without a Misunderstanding tape
- Kyoka – SH 12”
- The Fall – Wise Ol’ Man 12″
It’s been a great year for reissues, with a whole bunch of favourite artists getting long-overdue represses – notably, the Autechre albums mentioned near the top of this page. Let’s hope the vinyl bubble lasts long enough that this trend continues for at least another year or two. Maybe someone will finally do the Disco Inferno albums.
- Coil – The New Backwards
- Painkiller – Execution Ground
- Guy Reibel – Douze Inventions en Six Modes de Jeu
- Locust – Morning Light
- Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Songs of Forgiveness
- Iannis Xenakis – La Legende D’Eer
- MF Doom – Unexpected Guests
- William Basinski – 92982
- Zabaya – Azna de L’Ader
- Carl Stone – Electronic Music from the 70s & 80s
- J Dilla – The Diary
- Autechre albums
- Yoko Ono albums
- Flying Saucer Attack albums
- Godflesh albums
- Sonic Youth albums
- Pram albums
- Melvins albums
The live highlight, on a personal note, was obviously the Stewart Lee-curated edition of All Tommorow’s Parties in North Wales. Amazing sets from Datblygu and Sleaford Mods plus The Bevis Frond, Trembling Bells, Richard Youngs, The Fall, Stew himself and many, many more. This event had a distinctly weird vibe, probably caused by the ATP organization’s in-progress implosion but the convergence of so many favourite artists in one place was absolutely sublime. Had some nice walks on the beach too.
Also memorable was Brix Smith’s appearance at Rough Trade East in London, reading from her excellent autobiography, The Rise, The Fall & The Rise, as well as playing some acoustic songs and answering questions. Kris looked after her pug, while she sound checked. And speaking of blondes with pugs…
- Maria Bamford – the only comedian even nearly as funny as Stewart Lee
- Stewart Lee – the only comedian funnier than Maria Bamford
- Joni Mitchell! Joni Mitchell! Joni Mitchell!
- Recollection GRM and 70s/80s electro-acoustic music, generally
- Curits Roads, Barry Truax and early granular synthesis, generally
- Datblygu, Llwybr Llaethog and Welsh-language music, generally
- Tinariwen, Mdou Moctar and crazy Saharan rock, generally
- The Bevis Frond
- Leslie Winer
- Digital Eurorack modules
Let’s be frank: the whole year was a serious let-down. Part of the reason that Shirley Collins had to top this here list was that 2016 ended up simply marinated in the stench of death. So many legendary musicians died that it seemed like barely a week went by without some new round of RIPs on Twitter. On a personal level, the passings of Prince, Dale Griffin and Jean-Claude Risset were particularly significant (not to mention those of some beloved animal pals – don’t worry, Sneefler’s fine!) Then you had Bowie, Cohen, Pauline Oliveros, Alan Vega, Geneviève Castrée, Bernie Worrell, Dave Swarbrick, Phife Dawg… The list goes on.
But at least some of these folks were elderly and had clearly made peace with the world. The point is, death is expected, sooner or later – so it’s not exactly a let down. What is far more disappointing is the aforementioned state of world affairs: Brexit, the international rise of fascism and the collapse of American democracy. Without wishing to lapse into poor taste, you have to wonder if those dearly departed musicians might have gotten out at just the right time. At least they didn’t have to suffer through Kate Bush voicing her support of the UK’s crypto-fascist Prime Minister.
So, right now, musical disappointments like Katie Gately’s frankly unlistenable debut full-length seem decidedly meh.
Wish it was possible to say that 2017 will be better but it’s more than likely to make 2016 look like a walk in the park. In the meantime, you might want to make sure you really get as much joy out of this holiday season as you can. Seriously.
(P.S. As mentioned before, this post was created with reckless haste. If you spot anything glaringly missing or false, please post a comment to that effect and I will make the required additions/corrections ASAP.)
Edit: Late Additions
Normally, this section might be used to add recent discoveries found via other albums-of-the-year lists. But in this case, most of the following albums were actually released after this post initially went online. The big discovery was Sendai – a dream-come-true cross between Autechre and Roly Porter. All three of the Belgian duo’s albums are (it turns out) excellent but the new one might be the best yet. Oh and the new Rashad Becker is phenomenal too.
Anyway, the following list may get added to as and when new discoveries are made:
- Sendai – Ground & Figure
- Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II
- Cindytalk – The Labyrinth of the Straight Line
- Sarah Davachi – Vergers
- Blessed Initiative – s/t
- Terminal Cheesecake – Dandelion Sauce of the Ancients
- Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival
Pretty sure there’s at least one Seekers International album that remains unheard too. Who can keep up?
A year of surprises and a year of puzzles. Where did that Dr. Yen Lo album come from? Why didn’t the Holly Herndon and King Midas Sound albums deliver on their promise? How to explain the appeal of that Datblygu album?
Top 10 Albums
- Dr. Yen Lo – Days with Dr. Yen Lo
Underground rap veterans make a mostly-drumless concept album based around The Manchurian Candidate and it’s an improbably beautiful album of the year.
- Theo Burt – Gloss
Beyond any theoretical obfuscation the Automatics Group dude may run, this clearly sounds like a chip tune cover of an early Oval album. Mind-bogglingly lovely.
- Datblygu – Porwr Trallod
After two decades out of the game “The Welsh Fall” returns with an album that is more inventive and certainly more moving than anything Mark E. Smith has done in many years.
- Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Ludicrous 70s soft-rock schmaltz wedded to horrifyingly misanthropic lyrics. And yet everything is so pitch perfect that the whole is utterly seductive.
- Stephan Mathieu – Before Nostromo
This drone/ambient tribute to the first Alien movie yields one of Mathieu’s darkest and complex albums – and also one of his best.
- Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
A confident return to form after the extremely disappointing Divide & Exit. Still patchy but the best moments are as vividly righteous as they are deliriously vitriolic.
- Max Richter – From Sleep
Perhaps the eight-hour full version of Sleep is the real deal but this condensed version is in itself a real high point among the recent history of post-minimalist composition.
- Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal
Like the Datbygu album, this reduces song form to its bare essentials in order to deliver something incredibly courageous and emotionally raw.
- M.E.S.H. – Piteous Gate
An abstract electronic debut that has the kind of energy and inventiveness you only get when reach exceeds grasp.
- Dasha Rush – Sleepstep
Lovely nocturnal electronica which probably manages to be the lushest album ever released on Raster-Noton, without sacrificing the formal elegance associated with that label.
The Next 10
- Joanna Newsom – Divers
- Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
- Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
- Duane Pitre – Bayou Electric
- Holly Herndon – Platform
- King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1 Instrumentals
- Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
- Rabit – Communion
- Sunn O))) – Kannon
Aine O’Dwyer – Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I & II
Seekers International – Her Imperial Majesty
Mark Van Hoen – Nightvision
Other Great Albums
Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek – Whorls
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year with 13 Moons
Crys Cole – Sand/Layna
Colleen – Captain of None
Ian William Craig – Cradle for Wanting
Sarah Davachi – Baron’s Court
The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Robin Fox – A Small Prometheus
Yair Elazar Glotman – Etudes
Chihei Hatakeyama – Moonlight Reflecting Over Mountains
Helm – Olympic Mess
Kid606 – Recollected Ambient Works Vol. 1: Bored of Excitement
King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1
Nicholas Krgovich – On Cahuenga
MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Neu Balance – Rubber Sole
Vincent Parker – Purge
Philippe Petit – Multicoloured Shadows
Ramzi – Houti Kush
Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels
Senking – Closing Ice
Wand – 1000 Days
Automatics Group – Summer Mix
General Magic & Pita – Fridge Trax Plus
Arthur Russell – Corn
Loscil – Plume
J Dilla – Dillatronic
Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics
Singles, EPs etc.
Kuma – Mine
Loop – Array 1
Loscil – For Greta
Sleaford Mods – Talk Bollocks
Anna Zaradny feat. Christian Fennesz – RE:EM
Oval – Retina Score
The Autechre show in Vancouver was so next-level that it seems reckless to list anything else beside it.
And of Course
There’s loads of stuff I still haven’t heard and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about. Still listening, still learning.
If you’re at all concerned about the place of music in our culture, 2014 was a terrible year. If you’re just looking for some awesome shit to listen to, it was a fantastic year. Who can keep up? This is, inevitably, an incomplete list. Still listening, still catching up.
Top 10 Albums
1. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused (4AD)
Hard to pick between this and the Fennesz but – really – Soused is some next-level shit
2. Fennesz – Bécs (Editions Mego)
A partial return to his Endless Summer sound and well worth the wait
3. Oval – Voa (self-released)
Technically, this came out digitally in 2013 but the vinyl is the real deal
4. Diamond Version – CI (Mute)
Top-ten-worthy for Leslie Winer’s cameo alone – the rest is just (delicious) icing
5. Tape – Casino (Hapna)
Pure melodic loveliness? No: specifically impure melodic loveliness
6. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
His most accessible yet but still utterly, utterly knackered
7. Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (Editions Mego)
Ambarchi’s best in ages – imagine a Moritz von Oswald Arkestra
8. Loscil – Sea Island (Kranky)
Finally, Loscil manages to integrate discontinuous elements into his oceanic swells
9. Black to Comm – Black to Comm (Type)
A massive, mind-fraying psychedelic journey into the heart of the drone
10. Locust – After the Rain (Editions Mego)
Inexcusably gorgeous radiophonic melodicism from Mark van Hoen and co
- The Bug – Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)
The best bits are as good as anything but there are a few duff tracks
- Sleaford Mods – Divide & Exit (Harbinger Sound)
A very disappointing, patchy follow-up to Austerity Dogs but the peaks are miles high
- Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
- Lee Gamble – KOCH (Pan)
- LCC – D/evolution (Editions Mego)
- Tujiko Noriko – My Ghost Comes Back (Editions Mego)
- Vladislav Delay – Visa (Ripatti)
- Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
- Fennesz – Mahler Remixed (self-released)
- Eric Holm – Andøya (Subtext)
- Nicholas Krgovich – On Sunset (NK World Service)
- Kyoka – Is (Is Superpowered) (Raster-Noton)
- Klara Lewis – Ett (Editions Mego)
- Madlib – Piñata Beats (Madlib Invazion), Rock Konducta Vol. 1 and Rock Konducta Vol. 2 (Rappacats)
- Namoi Punk – Television Man (Captured Tracks)
- Nochexxx – Thrusters (Ramp)
- Thee Oh Sees – Drop (Castle Face)
- Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
- Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
- Arbutus – Bedroom Safari (Vague Sound)
- Sarah Davachi – August Harp (Cassuna)
- Holly Herndon – Chorus and Home (RVNG Intl.)
- Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Nottz (Little Teddy) and Tiswas (Invada)
- The Bug vs. Earth – Boa/Cold (Ninja Tune)
- Ian Crause – The Song of Phaeton (self-released)
- Dalglish – Dorcha Aigeann (Ge-stell)
- Lee Gamble – Kuang (Pan)
- Katie Gately/Tlaotlon – split (FatCat)
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Commissions I (Warp)
- The Fates – Furia (Finders Keepers)
- Leslie Winer – Witch (Superior Viaduct)
- Basic Channel – Q-Loop (Basic Channel)
- The Fall – The Unutterable (Let Them Eat Vinyl)
- Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Students of Decay)
- Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up + (Ipecac)
- Kate Bush in London
- Loop in Vancouver
- Big Joy Festival in Vancouver
- Roly Porter
- Sleaford Mods
Oh and I had an album out this year, for what it’s worth.
I’m going to keep it short this year for four reasons: (i) Promoting the new connect_icut album is time consuming, particularly when it’s just become available on vinyl and CD; (ii) most of the picks here are pretty obvious, at least to anyone who’s seen previous Bubblegum Cage lists; (iii) specifically, it should be bloody obvious what this here blog’s favourite album of the year is and everything else kinda, sorta pales by comparison; (iv) it seems like nobody even reads music blogs anymore, so…
If you’re looking for an overview of what 2013 was all about musically, then look to point two, above. In spite (or perhaps because) of the Internet opening everything up to everyone all the time, seems like it’s easier than ever to just stay in your own musical bubble and only bother with new albums by your favourite artists. Or maybe some of us are just getting old. Either way, it doesn’t feel great.
As always, this was written in a hurry, at the last minute. Apologies for the inevitable, grammatical and factual errors.
Here’s the list…
Top Ten Albums of the Year
1. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (no label) LP
This was the big one, of course. In a year of long-awaited albums (Boards of Canada, Daft Punk…) this was the longest awaited. And in many ways, the rapt critical reception it received was puzzling. The fact is, m b v: doesn’t hang together as an album; has a rushed, demo-ish feel; features two throwaway instrumentals; starts with what sounds like a Slowdive B-side; in no way lives up to any of the band’s classic, Creation-era work.
Here’s the thing, though: MBV’s Kevin Shields is still so far ahead of the pack that none of that really matters. Even a below-par Valentines album achieves peaks of complete otherness that nobody else working in any genre of music can come close to matching. And the peaks here are truly vertiginous, especially the ecstatic “Only Tomorrow” and the roller-coasting “In Another Way”. What is more, m b v contains some of Shields’ most sophisticated songwriting as well of some of his most bizarre experiments. Disappointing? Kinda. Godlike? Oh yeah!
2. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (Mute) 3LP
Another long-awaited album and another mixed bag. Shaking the Habitual is a rambling, inconsistent mess of haranguing political doggerel, primitive electro blats and grotesque transmogrifications. But it’s delivered with such wild-eyed conviction that one can hardly help but be sucked in. It’s hard to fault The Knife’s ambition or the commitment they show to their cause. The wonderful “Full of Fire” acts as a telling microcosm of the album, thundering blindly towards the horizon, becoming more crazed and mutated as it goes on and on and on.
3. Secret Pyramid – Movements of Night (Students of Decay) LP
The work of Vancouver’s Secret Pyramid is sure to appeal to fans of cultish dreampop acts like Flying Saucer Attack and Lovesliescrushing. But on his first vinyl release, he truly comes into his own with a series of genuinely haunting nocturnal ruminations, each based around a simple, achingly beautiful chord progression circling amid a gathering swarm of spectral drones. This is a pitch-perfect album experience that absolutely deserves your attention.
4. Forest Swords – Engravings (Tri Angle) 2LP
While he has associated himself with American labels peddling voguish hypnagogic pop and witch house, England’s Forest Swords has a great deal more in common with the darker end of 90s UK post-rock, particularly Scorn and The Third Eye Foundation (more of whom later, sort of). Chiming guitars, bumping beats, eerie samples and a mood of vague foreboding are all deployed to emotionally evocative effect. Engravings is the sound of a major talent slowly and subtly emerging.
5. Cindytalk – A Life is Everywhere (Editions Mego) LP
Another album of solo laptop exploration from under-appreciated industrial music veteran Gordon Sharp. Like all Cindytalk records, A Life is Everywhere furthers Sharp’s singular vision, which is as empathetic as it is harsh.
6. Dalglish – Niaiw Ot Vile (Pan) LP
It has been observed elsewhere that Dalglish manages to evoke deep melancholy while deploying hardly any of the signifiers one would normally expect from emotionally-downcast music. Imagine a more contemplative take on Autechre’s most abstract moments.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7 (Warp) 2LP
Like Dalglish, OPN’s Daniel Lopatin makes instrumental music that is both conceptually smart and emotionally evocative. R Plus 7 uses complex structures, self-consciously cheesy presets and sliced-up digital madness to explore the loneliest stretches of the information superhighway.
8. Matt Elliott – Only Myocardial Infarction Can Break Your Heart (Ici D’ailleurs) LP
For those of you who haven’t followed the Third Eye Foundation man’s progress, he’s now crafting singer-songwriter albums mixing elements of Leonard Cohen, flamenco, Yiddish folk song and surreal electronics. This is not as good as 2012’s The Broken Man but it’s still pretty damned powerful.
9. Stephan Mathieu – Un Coeur Simple (Baskaru) CD
On The Falling Rocket (Dekorder, 2LP), Mathieu crafted his darkest drone epic to date. But the more diverse Un Coeur Simple was his finest release in a typically prolific year.
10 Locust – You’ll be Safe Forever (Editions Mego) LP
Another solid effort from Mark Van Hoen, returning to his mid 90s alias and honestly sounding like little or no time has passed since he last used it. If you like Boards of Canada and don’t think “trip-hop” is a dirty word, you’re going to love this.
Other Top-Notch Stuff
Ian Crause Downloads
Talking of the mid-90s, Ian Crause has essentially picked up where his band Disco Inferno left off back then. That may not seem too exciting to those not aware of how far ahead of the game DI’s virtual-reality rock was but the tracks posted on Crause’s Bandcamp page over the last 18 months or so represent some of the most startlingly original music of the last 20 years. It’s shocking this material hasn’t gained wider exposure. Still, the fact that the page appears to be blank right now might suggest he has plans for some kind of real-world release.
Diamond Version – EP3, EP4 and EP5 (Mute) 12″s
In the age of EDM and brostep, it’s nice to know that electronic music can still deliver visceral thrills without having to dumb itself down one bit. The Raster-Noton-associated duo of Alva Noto and Byetone went from strength to strength to strength in 2013. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
The Best 2012 Release This Here Blog Totally Slept On
Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes (Pan) LP
This fellow has a lot in common with Actress, not just in his habit of pulverizing techno tropes into unstable sound dust but also in his ability to convey a sense that the whole thing is part of some impenetrable prank. But Lee Gamble’s background is apparently more academic and his deconstructions are more extreme. Everything on Dutch Tvashar Plumes sounds somehow utterly wrong and yet the album has a consistent atmosphere and sense of development that belies its outwardly half-baked conception. Puzzling and wonderful.
Dutch Tvashar Plumes very nearly made it into the top 10 for 2013 but it turns out to have been released in November 2012. Huh.
This is an incomplete list of other worthy releases. More may be added, if and when they spring to mind:
- Aerosol Constellations – Dark Side of the Sun (Isolated Now Waves/Thankless) LP
- Juan Atkins & Morris von Oswald – Borderland (Tresor) 3×12″
- Autechre – Exai (Warp) 4LP
- Blondes – Swisher (Rvng Intl.) 2LP
- Dean Blunt – The Redeemer (Hippos in Tanks) LP
- Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio (Warp) LP
- The Bug and King Midas Sound – various singles
- Sarah Davachi – The Untuning of the Sky (Full Spectrum) cassette
- EVOL – Proper Headshrinker (Mego) LP
- The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red) LP
- Father Murphy – Anyway Your Children will Deny It: 9 Heretical Views (Aagoo) LP
- Fennesz – 17.02.12 (Song Cycle) 2LP
- Marcus Fjellstrom – Epilogue M (Aagoo) 12″
- Katie Gately – s/t (Public Information) 12″
- Tim Hecker – Virgins (Kranky) 2LP
- Giuseppe Ielasi/Kassel Jaeger – Parallel/Greyscale (Mego) LP
- Kemper Norton – Lowermoor (More Than Human) 12″
- Nicholas Krgovich – Who Cares? (JAZ) LP
- Loscil – Intervalo (Frond) LP
- Main – Ablation (Mego) LP
- Mountains – Centralia (Thrill Jockey) LP
- Murcof & Phillipe Petit – First Chapter (Rev.Lab) LP
- Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin (Castle Face) LP
- Oval – Calidostopia! (no label) download
- Vincent Parker – Hypo (no label) download
- Duane Pitre – Bridges (Important) LP
- Plays: Four – Lay Doe (More Than Human) 12″
- Prophecy Sun – Sleep Fever (Panospria) download
- Quasimoto – Yessir Whatever (Stones Throw) LP
- Roger Robinson – Novella EP and Contemplate Mixtape (no label) download
- Ty Segal – Sleeper (Drag City) LP
- Secret Pyramid – Distant Works I (Proposition) cassette
- Souns & Scant Intone – Attempts Space Time (Panospria) download
- Touch Sevens singles
- Zomby – With Love (4AD) 3LP
Looking Forward to in 2014
- No UFO’s
This here blog isn’t dead, just sleeping. Maybe. In any case, the temptation to indulge in an end-of-year wrap-up post was just too great to resist. Actually getting around writing the post or even compiling an albums-of-the-year list proved to be tricky though. There was, after all, the promise of a new My Bloody Valentine album arriving in mid December. With this veritable sword of Damocles a-dangling, who could make a judgement about the year in music? Only a fool, surely!?
Still, the penny had to drop eventually and it was certainly bound to drop before the album. Waiting until a new MBV album comes out before you do something? Now that’s foolish! No point in basing your blogging around Kevin Shields’ promises. The show must go on. Lists must be compiled, judgements made. But if the (alleged) album does emerge before the end of 2012, this entire post will be null and void. Oh well.
That’s one caveat. Another is that this December has proven to be unusually busy and stressful. Therefore, this typically epic (though probably shorter than usual) year-end post was typed in an even-more-than-usually-even-more-than-usually haphazard fashion, in stolen moments, usually late at night. No proofreading, no promises of accuracy or coherence.
Now back to judging other people’s efforts…
On the whole , 2012 had a similar feel to 2011 – a creeping sense that this was a terrible time for music, uncannily coupled with an inability to keep up with the endless stream of worthwhile (and often excellent) releases. This, of course, has something very boring to do with the Internet, so let’s gloss over it and examine some of the releases that didn’t slip by our notice.
One more thing before we get to that though. As ever, comments are strongly encouraged. Don’t be afraid to point out glaring omissions. Don’t be afraid to call this here blog on its bullshit. Don’t be afraid.
Top Ten Albums of the Year
1. Sylvain Chauveau & Stephan Mathieu – Palimpsest (Schwebung) LP
French polymath Sylvain Chauveau* and German sound art dude Stephan Mathieu – both longtime Bubblegum Cage III favourites – made the admirable decision to collaborate. And the results turned out to be even more than – even better than – the sum of their parts. Apparently, Mathieu sent Chauveau a series of drones, over which he expected the multi-talented composer to arrange some string and piano parts. Instead, Sylvain chose to sing a few songs by arch indie rock moper Bill Callahan aka Smog. The combination of Mathieu’s ominous drones, Callahan’s morbidly mordant lyrics and Chauveau’s rich, slightly cracked voice is astonishingly effective and Palimpsest is a wonderful example of what happens when everything just falls into place. A brilliant idea, perfectly realised. Anything with Sylvain Chauveau’s voice on it seems to polarize listeners but for Bubblegum Cage III, this is the album of the year – no doubt.
(*He was billed as being from Belgium when he played in Vancouver but the Internet suggests otherwise.)
2. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD) 2LP
Another maddeningly odd collection of theatrical avant rock opuses from the legendary recluse. The first record, in particular, is breathtakingly weird and powerful. The whole sequence of songs from “Corps de Blah”, through the monstrous “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)” and on to “Epizootics!” is surely one of the most extraordinary, hilarious and disgusting sequences of songs in the history of recorded music. Sadly, the album doesn’t retain that level of quality right to the end but even its weaker tracks are dotted with moments of truly impressive ingenuity and courage. A legend walks among us again.
“Corps de Blah”
3. Holly Herndon – Movement (RVNG Intl.) LP
An extremely accomplished mixture of advanced granular synthesis, fearless vocal improvisation and Detroit techno pastiche from the year’s most exciting new artist. Movement recalls the classic early 2000’s computer music of Mego artists like Farmers Manual and General Magic, as well as the sidereal electronica of Love’s Secret Domain-era Coil. What’s perhaps most exciting about Movement is that it represents an increasingly rare instance of a trained electroacoustic composer who is willing to step outside the academy and present her work in a nominally “pop” context. The results are uneven but that only makes them more exciting, in a weird way. Movement manages to sound like a perfectly assured piece of work and like the first tentative steps towards something authentically incredible.
4. The Automatics Group – Summer Mix (Entr’acte) CD
Rave-pop hits reduced to digital sound dust by this consistently intriguing UK sound art project. Conceptually fascinating digital signal processing procedures are brought to bear on a range of bangin’ choons to produce something that sounds like a fire-damaged tape of classic Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound tracks. Somehow, it all has a remarkable amount of emotional resonance. Summer Mix feels like the melancholy undertow of the party-hard ethic that seems like mainstream music’s prevailing reaction in the face of endless recession and oncoming ecological disaster. Reading too much into it? Nah – this shit is deep!
Technically, this was released right at the end of 2011 but it came out way too late to appear in any 2011 lists and it’s just too damn good to be omitted from this here blog’s 2012 list. So there.
“Roger Sanchez/Eric Prydz”
5. Woebot – Hallo (Hollow Earth) CD
Abandoning sample collage in favour of English-eccentric songwriter primitivism, Woebot made the bravest album of the year. Not that Bish Bosch wasn’t madly courageous but Scott Walker is a seasoned, highly-respected pro, who’s been in the game since his teens, able to muster considerable resources at the drop of a hat (or a twitch of the sunglasses). Mathew “Woebot” Ingram, on the other hand, is a hobbyist and autodidact who started making music relatively late in life. Hallo is a grand act of will. Recorded with admirable depth and clarity, Matt’s rudimentary instrumental and vocal performances are thrown out into the spotlight, seemingly unprepared for the audience’s scrutiny. While there can be no doubt about how difficult exposing himself in this way must have been, it’s all a bit of a trick. Everything seems rickety and tentative at first but once you’ve exercised the aforementioned scrutiny, you’ll notice a stubborn, assured confidence to these simple songs. The man has a vision and he means to see it through. He’s a visionary.
6. Actress – RIP (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
Another extremely satisfying digital techno journey from the enigmatic West Midlander. Apparently, RIP is a concept album based on Paradise Lost. It certainly seems to have a grand narrative behind it – starting off gently and gradually accumulating dramatic gravitas as it progresses. In terms of Darren Cunningham’s personal journey, RIP is certainly a step in the right direction. Less reliant on muddy side-chaining compression and general lo-fi tactics, Cunningham has the confidence to let his beats pop and granulated sample loops sing. Rather confusingly, music critics continue to portray Actress as an earthy analogue type, even as he displays a growing mastery of contemporary computer music techniques. But that’s the thing about Darren Cunningham – he’s never quite what you expect him to be. He seldom does exactly what you imagine he might but he always does it at just the right moment.
7. Oren Ambarchi – Audience of One (Touch) 2LP
Ambarchi was even-more-than-usually prolific this year but nothing else he released quite scaled the heights of this double set (though the duo with Robin Fox, discussed below, came pretty close). When experimental musicians move away from electronic minimalism and towards a more fleshed-out live band sound, they tend to lose the plot a bit. But the distinctly organic and collaborative feel of this album is every bit as focused as any of Ambarchi’s solo sine-tone guitar excursions. While the audacious, 33-minute “Knots” is the clear centrepiece of this album, it’s the more compact, song-based material that has the greatest impact – specifically “Salt” and “Fractured Mirror”, which turns out to be a cover of a track by Ace Frehley of Kiss! Oren Ambarchi is a true obsessive who knows the mutually-alien worlds of classic rock and avant experimentalism inside and out. And he knows how to meld them like pretty much nobody else around right now. Also, our friend Crys Cole plays on this record. Yay, go Crys!
8. Fieldhead – A Correction (Gizeh) LP
It’s easy – and fun – to see this series of blustery electronic miniatures as a loving tribute to Canada’s great north-west. Just as Loscil’s Endless Falls did in 2010, A Correction perfectly conjures the mood of a rainy Vancouver afternoon, using warm chord washes, grainy digital electronics and melancholy strings (Fieldhead was based in Vancouver when he recorded this, though he has since moved on). However, compared to Loscil’s manicured lawn of sound, this is an overgrown weed patch, wild and unruly. That’s wild as in wilderness, not as in rock’n’roll excess. This is perfect music for staring into the vast expanse of fuck all that lies to the north of any Canadian city. Having said that, it’s actually a very compact album – shorter than that one long Oren Ambarchi track! To be so expansive and so concise all at once is quite an achievement.
9. Moritz von Oswald Trio – Fetch (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
While nothing can quite match the future shock of the MVOT’s debut (Vertical Ascent), this collection is probably the Trio’s most well-rounded collection of minimal dub-jazz. More than anything, Fetch recalls the cinematic/industrial ambient-fusion albums Australia’s Paul Schutze was producing in the 90s. Which is to say, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard anything quite like this. Moritz von Oswald’s past with dub techno pioneers Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound is audible throughout but it’s filtered through a seemingly unique approach to live band interplay – the specifics of which are hard to pinpoint. Whatever may be going on, it has led to an album that’s consistently listenable and stylish but never overly decorative or polite. It’s like making friends with a rather erudite extra terrestrial.
10. Mark van Hoen – The Revenant Diary (Editions Mego) 2LP
Another superb solo album from the ex-Seefeel/Locust/Scala guy. Perfect electronic avant pop for bedsit brooding. According to Editions Mego, the basis of this album was recorded “on four-track tape, using a minimal set-up, reminiscent of his first early 80s musical adventures”. However, it doesn’t exactly sound like Sebadoh or whatever. The Revenant Diary is full of chunky beats, sliced-up loops and time-stretched voices. The fact that all this digital magic really does sound like it’s been recorded to cassette tape gives the whole thing an uncanny, ghostlike feel, which recalls both Boards of Canada and The Fall’s underrated Bend Sinister (which was mastered from a cassette). Like all of this guy’s best work, it’s intensely personal but also very accessible. Seems like only a matter of time before he gets the widespread acclaim he’s deserved for so long.
“No Distance (Except the One Between You and Me)”
Other Absolutely Top-Notch Stuff
My Bloody Valentine – EPs 1988-1991 (Sony) 2CD
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (Sony) CD
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (Sony) 2CD
At last! The long-promised MBV remasters, including remixed versions of three never-officially-released-but-still-widely-circulated demos on the EPs compilation. Still no vinyl though. And it really seems like the press/public response to these releases was a little muted – they just kinda dribbled out, having leaked a couple of years previously, around the originally-slated release date. None of these CDs were even mentioned in The Wire magazine’s reissues-of the-year list, for instance. But make no mistake – THIS IS THE BEST MUSIC EVER RELEASED. EVER! More than 20 years after the original releases, it still sounds at least a decade ahead of anything else happening in rock, electronic or experimental music. Show some respect – this is it!
Diamond Version – EP1 (Mute) 12″
Diamond Version – EP2 (Mute) 12″
Two EPs of block-rockin’ glitch beats from Raster Noton’s Alva Noto and Byetone. The worst you can say about this stuff is that it’s like the thinking person’s brostep. But this material is as smart and sophisticated as it is brutally efficient. It’s absolutely precision tooled to sound as pulse-increasingly insurrectionary as possible but it still finds time to open out big yawning chasms of dub space. And with the ironic deployment of corporate sloganeering, sometimes delivered via synthesized robo-voices, the overall impression is of a post-punk Kraftwerk. This may be the most purely exciting music of the year.
Burial – Kindred (Hyperdub) 12″
With Burial going from strength to strength, Kindred was the post-dubstep pioneer’s most ambitious release to date. Epic to the point of practically being a mini album, this 12″ sees Burial in uncompromising mood. He’s not one to rest on his laurels – he’d want to make himself far more uncomfortable than that. By the time you read this, there should be another 12″ in circulation. It’ll probably be bonkers!
Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian) 2LP
Ian Crause – The Song of Phaethon (no label) download
The CD came out last year but it’s worth flagging up the rather fancy 2LP edition of The Five EPs. Absolutely peerless sampledelic post-rock genius – and a historically important document of a band at the height of its powers.
The Song of Phaethon, meanwhile, is a recent solo release from Disco Inferno front-man Ian Crause. Essentially, it’s a single epic song divided into three parts. Much closer to the classic DI sound (with a touch of The Legendary Pink Dots, oddly enough), it was one of the most remarkable and innovative releases of the year. Unbelievably, Crause self-released it through his Bandcamp page because (he claims) he can’t get any record labels interested in his new material. It’s a truly shameful reflection on our times that there hasn’t been some kind of indie bidding war for this material. Make no mistake, like The 5 EPs, this is historic stuff.
Plays:four – Lay Doe (no label) download
Phenomenal debut EP from this terrifyingly young Vancouver electronica trio. The template for Lay Doe clearly comes from early 2000s glitch techno, with Jan Jelinek emerging as a particularly strong influence. But the end result has a claustrophobic, compressed sound that is distinctly contemporary. Seems like a tantalizing glimpse of great things to come.
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist (Software) 2LP
Oneohtrix Point Never/Rene Hell – split (NNA Tapes) LP
Two really great releases featuring Daniel “OPN” Lopatin. The collab with Tim Hecker was definitely a strong top ten contender and both of these records feel like “proper”, fully-realised releases, rather that stopgap projects. It’s worth noting that the Rene Hell side of the split LP is actually really fantastic too.
Oren Ambarchi & Robin Fox – Connected (Kranky) LP
Oren Ambarchi – Sagittarian Domain (Editions Mego) LP
More Ambarchi stuff. The collab with fellow Australian Robin Fox (an excellent solo artist in his own right) is a finely-wrought duo to rank alongside the Hecker/Lopatin record – and, as such, another strong contender for the top ten.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love) 2LP
Some fans found it an unwelcome retreat from the finely-tuned lo-fi of Stott’s previous EPs but – to these ears – Luxury Problems is his most focused work to date. Imagine the new age post-punk of early 4AD, locked to the minimal techno grid.
The Caretaker – Patience (After Sebald) (History Always Favours the Winners) LP
A great soundtrack to a great film about a great writer. The Caretaker’s finest hauntological moment.
KTL – V (Editions Mego) 2LP
Fenn O’Berg – In Hell (Editions Mego) 2LP
Another great year for Peter “Pita” Rehberg and his Editions Mego family of labels. No solo Pita work emerged but he did contribute to these two excellent releases. The KTL track featuring Johann Johannsson is particularly impressive.
Valgeir Sigurðsson – Architecture of Loss (Bedroom Community) LP
Probably the best “neo-classical” album of the year – certainly ahead of the pack in its expertly-controlled edgy dissonance. And you’ve gotta love that crazy Icelandic surname.
Monolake – Ghosts (Imbalance Computer Music) 2LP
A “dancier” take on the moodily obsessive sound Robert Henke perfected on his masterpiece, Silence. A little patchy but with many moments of true brilliance. Oh and live, loud and quadrophonic at Seattle’s Decibel festival, this material really was something to behold.
No UFO’s – MPC Tracks Vol. 1 (Nice Up International) cassette
Cloudface – Wyre Drive (Nice Up International) cassette
No UFO’s brings the murky, sample-based discursiveness. MPC Tracks sounds like Demdike Stare suffering from chronic indecision and deserves a vinyl reissue. The Cloudface is really good too, offering a more analogue take the on the same aesthetic
En – Already Gone (Students of Decay) LP
Now that Mountains decided to go analogue/crap, the En boys look set to become the new kings of naturalistic electro-drone.
Loscil – Sketches from New Brighton (Kranky) 2LP
Gradual development is the name of the game with Loscil, on the micro and macro levels. Just as each song builds and morphs almost imperceptibly, each new album subtly introduces a few new ideas. Sketches from New Brighton is no exception. It’s not his most fully-realised album but when you begin an album title with the word “sketches”, you pretty much excuse that in advance.
Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – Black is Beautiful (Hyperdub) LP
It’s Hype Williams, yo. If you like Dean and Inga’s brand of smarmy hipster dicking about, you’ll love it. If you don’t, you may have no soul.
Fennesz – AUN (Ash International) CD
Fennesz – Fa 2012 (Editions Mego) 12″
Fennesz Wozencroft – Liquid Music (Touch) USB drive
AUN is a fairly forgettable film soundtrack. Fennesz by numbers, really. Excellent in places but no substitute for a fully-fledged new solo masterpiece. Fennesz’s side of the 12″ is just okay too, revisiting a track from his debut album Hotel Paral.lel. The Mark Fell remix it’s twinned with is actually kinda shitty. Liquid Music, an audio-visual collaboration with Touch boss Jon Wozencroft (reviewed here), is definitely the most satisfying of these releases. And of course, the aforementioned Fenn O’Berg album is excellent.
Richard Youngs – Core to the Brave (Root Strata) LP
One of the better Youngs releases of recent times. Might be described as “noise-folk”.
Vladislav Delay – Kuopio (Raster-Noton) CD
A real late arrival. Haven’t had time to get to grips with this but it’s Vladislav Delay doing what he does – wonky glitch-dub – which has to be a good thing. Sounds better than the last album – maybe a bit dancier.
V. Vecker Ensemble – In the Tower (Majorly) LP
Nam Shub – Cascadia (no label) LP
Post-rock is alive and well in Western Canada, as evidenced by these two highly-commendable releases from Vancouver. Keep an eye on the Majorly label.
Gunshae – Out of Darkness… Light (Ohm Resistance) CD
Thomas Koner – Novaya Zemlya (Touch) LP
Deison – Quiet Rooms (Aagoo) CD
Filip Gorecki – Aura & the Dark Fruit (Panospria) download
And ambient music of the mean-and-moody variety is alive and well all across the globe. Particularly nice to see that Koner and Vancouver’s Gunshae are still in the game. Gunshae’s Lost Cascadian Suite is also available for free download from Panospria, as is the excellent debut album from fellow Vancouverite Filip Gorecki.
White Poppy – I Had a Dream (Not Not Fun) cassette
Best indie rock band in Vancouver? Sounds a bit like Papa Sprain! Worth breaking the Not Not Fun boycott for.
Vincent Parker – Import Culture: Respecanize P2 (no label) download
More Vancouver goodness, this time of the beat-driven, electronical kind.
Ty Segall – Twins (Drag City) LP
The Oh Sees – Putrifiers II (In the Red) LP
With “EDM” psuedo-raves dominating arenas across North America and rock seemingly absent from the mainstream for the first time in 50 years, it’s odd to see the dogged survival of the post-White Stripes garage rock underground. And it’s even odder to note that some of the stuff it’s producing is pretty fantastic.
prOphecy Sun – Bird Curious (Panospria) download
Spell – Lull (Panospria) download
More from Vancouver. Bird Curious is an album of eccentric improvisations recorded on an iPhone. Lull is the second EP from prOphecy Sun’s dark electropop project. Download them here and here.
Seekersinternational – The Call from Below (Digitalis) LP
Yet more goodness from Vancouver. This one sounds like a more maximal, chaotic take on Rhythm & Sound’s dubwise early 12″s.
Nicolas Krgovich – Real Life (no label) download
In lieu of a new album from Krgovich’s No Kids, we’ll have to accept this solid collection of covers in an 80s R&B stylee.
Mute Branches – So Remote (no label) download
A delightful little IDM obscurity. Well worth taking a chance on.
Father Murphy – Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It (Aagoo) LP
A very disconcerting avant rock effort, which pokes around the darker corners of post-punk. Reviewed here.
Bellows – Reelin’ (Entr’acte) CD
Giuseppe Ielasi – Untitled (Entr’acte) CD
Two more tasty slices of electro-improv featuring the ever-reliable Italian Giuseppe Ielasi.
Raime – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black) LP
Spartan, haunted beats for fans of Scorn and Seefeel’s underrated Succour.
Cowards – See ‘Em, Be ‘Em (Cowards) 7″
Twangy avant-punk from – yes – Vancouver. Sounds exactly like early Swans if you play it at the wrong speed.
Lee Gamble – Diversions (Pan) 12″
Dark ambient tracks made with samples of the atmospheric breakdowns from rave records. The execution doesn’t quite live up to the concept but what a concept!
Black to Comm – Earth (De Stijl) LP
Ekkehard Ehlers – Adikia (Staubgold) LP
Two slightly disappointing efforts from longtime Bubblegum Cage favourites. In each case, creaky-spooky soundscaping is thrown even further off kilter by some frankly grating vocal interjections. These are both worthwhile efforts but they don’t deliver on the level we have come to expect.
Reissues, Vinyl Editions etc.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts (Software) 5LP
This here blog’s ability to comment on this here item will depend almost entirely on that there Santa’s generosity.
A.R. Kane – Complete Singles Collection (One Little Indian) 2CD
Nice to see this collection of proto-shoegaze classics getting the reissue treatment. The first disc essentially constitutes the band’s best album – surpassing even the brilliant but uneven 69.
Can – The Lost Tapes (Mute) 5LP
A trawl through the krautrock legends’ jam-tape archive yields a surprisingly (though, it has to be said, not entirely) consistent collection of classic-era material.
Dreamscape – La-Di-Da Recordings (Kranky) LP
A very welcome archival LP collecting almost the complete works of this obscure shoegaze act from Bristol. The second release on this list that sounds a bit like Papa Sprain.
Sonic Youth – Smart Bar, Chicago, 1985 (Goofin’) 2LP
A highly-exhilarating live bootleg recording from back in the day, digitally restored by Lee Renaldo’s son (!)
Top Ten Live Sets
Faulty memory will probably ensure that something particularly thrilling has been omitted from this particular section (see edits, below) but off the top of the old head, it would go something like this:
- Monolake in Seattle
- Byetone in Seattle
- Actress in Vancouver
- Sylvain Chauveau in Vancouver
- Oneohtrix Point Never in Vancouver
- Ty Segall in Vancouver
- Secret Pyramid in Vancouver
- Plays:four in Vancouver
- Cut Hands in Seattle
- Biosphere in Seattle
And that’s about if for another 12 months. See you in the New Year! Or not. Whatever.
- Oh yeah, Neil Young & Crazy Horse played a couple of months ago. That would be about number six in the Live Sets list.
- Haven’t heard the new BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa yet.
- Didn’t the other guy from Basic Channel have some kind of solo album out this year?
- Also forgot about Type’s reissue of Biokinetics by Porter Ricks. Definitely one of the reissues of the year.
- RIP MCA.
- Ah! Saw Swans play too. That was even better than Neil Young. Not that interested in hearing the new album but the show was great.
- Probably need to hear that Shackleton thing.
- Mount Eerie did an awesome show in Vancouver. Forgot about that one. And didn’t he do two albums this year?
- It’s weird how people have commented on this post via Twitter, Tumblr and Last FM but not in the comments box for the post itself. The Internet has changed.
Another year ends and along comes another Bubblegum Cage III end-of-year list. The usual caveats apply: this rather lengthy post was pecked out over a disjointed series of sittings. No critical rigour or close proofreading was applied at any stage. What is more, there was a major technical calamity at one point, which caused an entire evening’s worth of work to be lost forever. The upshot of all this is that the grammar may be marginal and the writing a little half-baked. But the music’s all that matters and the music is great.
So, what’s been happening? Well there’s this… and then…
Well… sometimes, it seems like every year is simultaneously a better year for music than the previous one and a worse year for music than ever. Let’s look on the dark side first, get that out of the way. It’s hard to remember a year when music per se was more marginal to western popular culture or when mainstream pop music was more shamelessly heinous. For most people, music has become little more than an optional feature of smartphones, designed to pump out shitty-sounding MP3s of hyper-compressed uber kitsch at the most antisocial of opportunities. And while the mainstream squanders the astonishing potential of digital audio technology in that manner, the greatest creative minds of the musical underground have turned into a bunch of look-back bores, intent upon steadfastly refusing to explore the full potential of the vintage synthesizers they just bought on eBay. Bah!
Then there’s digital maximalism, which just seems like a wearying, indiscriminate outpouring of collective incontinence. Still, there is a different type of torrential digital maximalism that can’t help but yield some positive results, if only by statistical probability. That is to say there continues to be an ever-gathering cascade of interesting-at-the-very-least new (and old) music raining down on us all on a daily basis – to the point that it’s utterly impossible to keep up, let alone appraise it all in a meaningful way. While this means that most of the truly great, potentially important albums end up getting overlooked… well, hasn’t that always been the case? The cream rises to the top, sure – but it usually takes a while.
It can sometimes seem like the greats are drowning in a sea of merely-goods. But let’s face it, there have only ever been about half a dozen truly classic albums released in any given 12-month period. That hasn’t changed in the last 50, 60 years. And even the most perceptive of critics will find it hard to figure out precisely which albums those are until said albums have been around for at least a couple of years. Of course, at the Bubblegum Cage III, we think the most perceptive of critics are losers. We know full well what the most important records of 2011 were and we know it right now. So what are we waiting for? Here they are…
Top 10 Albums of the Year
1. Seefeel – s/t (Warp) LP
Quite the comeback from the UK post-rock legends – this is exactly what Bubblegum Cage III wanted to be hearing in 2011. Which is to say it sounded like nothing else this year and flew recklessly in the face of fashion. No vintage synths, four-track fug or aimless eclecticism for this band.
Like all Seefeel albums, Seefeel explores variations on a very limited sound palette. In this case, the palette is anchored by ponderously hypnotic beats’n’basslines and topped off with Sarah Peacock’s cooing vocals. In the middle, you get Mark Clifford’s DSP-distressed guitar giving off all manner of bass wobbles, granular detonations and disorientatingly modulated delays.
Whereas most guitar/DSP combinations in the post-Fennesz era have aimed to humanize or naturalize experimental electronic music, Clifford’s work here essentially makes rock sound more alien and uncanny than one might reasonably think it could in this day and age. This is a brave, brilliantly realised and multi-dimensional album; genuinely dreamlike in its smeared clarity and as alienating as it is beautiful. (The Moritz von Oswald Trio has been pulling off a similar trick over the last few years.)
Fennesz is extra-relevant here, by the way. The great man’s combination of classic-rock guitar stylings and cutting-edge DSP deconstruction has been responsible for some of the most thoughtful, innovative music of the last 15 years. But his style is perhaps too fractured and abstract to have a direct impact on the broader culture of popular music. Seefeel represents an attempt to apply Fennesz-esque techniques to the “traditional” rhythms and structures of pop/rock. As such, it sounds like a proposal for a more reflective, less destructive – but not unrealistically utopian – future.
In the past, many people sought out music that sounded like the future. Nowadays, some of us are just searching for music that makes us feel like there’s going to be a future. Seefeel shoots the beast of inevitable entropy down with a single enigmatic glance. Seriously.
Near perfect and damn well necessary, Seefeel is this here blog’s album of the year. The fact that nobody else seems to regard it so highly is distressing on any number of levels.
2. Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place (12k) CD [& To Describe George Washington Bridge (Dekorder) 10″ & Remain (Line) CD]
An absolutely glorious excursion into pure ambient bliss-out from one of the tried-and-tested masters of digital electronica. The methodology here is probably pretty simple, as anyone who’s spent time playing with SoundHack will tell you. But while digital technology might make it easy to create sounds a bit like this, it’s something else to weave those sounds into an gigantic, undulating eiderdown of heavenly cumulus.
A Static Place consists of five pieces, four of which are exactly 10 minutes long. Like the Seefeel album, it’s based around a very limited selection of signature textures – the repeated deployment of spectral twisting and twinkling in the high end being the key to precisely why A Static Place is so seductive.
Most of the audio samples at the root of these twinkly textures were apparently sourced from Mathieu’s collection of vintage 78 RPM records – hence the “static” in the title. But any surface noise here is rendered as an unbroken, oceanic pink noise bliss-hiss, with no pops or irruptions to disrupt the flow. So seamless is the sound, in fact, that it seems faintly ridiculous to keep referring to Mathieu as a “glitch” artist, just because he’s a German guy with a laptop.
In spite of its restricted sonic parameters and its seamless flow, A Static Place is anything but one-dimensional. You could lose your mind in the heady heights of this album – this goddamn heroic inner space voyage.
3. Tape – Revelationes (Immune) LP
Perhaps the loveliest album yet from Sweden’s digitally-enhanced pastoral post-rock trio. There’s nothing unexpected here – beautiful guitar and keyboard melodies buoyed upon lightly-brushed rhythms, topped off with some unobtrusive granular audio manipulations. Tape’s music has always been just edgy enough to prevent it becoming blandly decorative but – in this case – the more-than-usually-beautiful melodies really kick things up a notch. Revelationes is absolutely bloody gorgeous; ravishing!
There’s a truly utopian sensibility to this music, albeit an unassuming, decidedly non-didactic sensibility (all of which is compounded by the lovely cover art). Compared to this, most 2011 releases sound unattractively decadent, bloated and pointless. Like the Seefeel album, this record hints at a better future that can only be glimpsed through the abstract medium of experimental music (in these blighted, dogmatically politicized times, a least). That may be reading too much into what is basically just a very pretty instrumental post-rock record but an album quite this pretty can really give you ideas.
4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software) LP
If the already-classic Returnal felt like the culmination of something, Replica feels like the start of something – something good and something less tied to recognizable analogue tropes – but just the start of something, nevertheless. Whatever it is, Daniel Lopatin hasn’t quite perfected it yet, which is the only reason Oneohtrix Point Never hasn’t been awarded Bubblegum Cage III Album of the Year two years in a row.
Sampling has cropped up in Lopatin’s work before (on Memory Vague, for instance) but it has never been pushed quite so far to the fore. Oneohtrix is associated with the whole synth drone thing but Lopatin is clearly making an effort to prioritize digital methods. He’s even – sacrelige! – worked a laptop into his live set-up.
Apparently, most of the samples come from vintage TV adds, so Lopatin is still exploring the intersections of memory and popular culture. But he’s doing so in a more vivid, critical way than most of his hypnagogic peers. The sound here is spacious, raw and glitchy. The deployment of sound is both achingly beautiful and disarmingly witty. The most obvious comparison might be to 94 Diskont-era Oval, which is interesting because the last Oval album was a close runner up to Returnal in last year’s to 10.
Oh and c’mon guys, it’s a pun on 106.7FM (Boston’s soft rock station), so it’s pronounced “one oh tricks point never”. Is that really so hard?
5. Woebot – Chunks (Hollow Earth) LP
More sample-collage fun, this time concentrating on re-situating slices of 70s hard rock heaviosity. Part of the fun comes from hearing these big beer farts of sound hermetically sliced’n’diced and arranged with neat (but unfussy) precision. The real fun, though, comes from the fact that this approach doesn’t drain the idiot joy from the source material. If anything, the mighty Woebot’s attention to detail and ear for a hook only make things sillier and more energizing.
The fact that “Argos” has not yet topped the UK pop charts is proof positive that the world has gone mad.
6. Alva Noto – Univrs 2LP [& Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – Summvs CD & Cyclo – Id 12″] (all Raster-Noton)
An astonishing year for Carsten Nicolai. Three releases so consistently compelling that it’s extremely hard to pick a favourite. His latest piano-versus-laptop duel with Ryuichi Sakamoto is perhaps the duo’s most satisfying face-off yet. But Univrs is just so stridently rocking and robotically funky that it seems like the real award winner here. And it truly is a winner – there are numerous moments on this album where you’ll simply want to stand up and applaud. Explosive stuff!
7. Kellarissa – Moon of Neptune (Mint) LP
Exceptionally lunar tunes from the pride of Vancouver. There was a fair bit of hype about solo, female avant-synthpop artists this year. The fact that Kellarissa got left out of the mix was a grave injustice. Maybe we can put it down to her duties as keyboard player in Destroyer taking up the time that would otherwise have been spent promoting this album. In any case, take a listen to “Undock” and then try to say that shit ain’t world-class.
8. Hype Williams – One Nation (Hippos in Tanks) LP
Smirky, lo-fi retro pastiche that should be annoying but is actually weirdly affecting. This London duo’s “we’re so mysterious” self-mythologizing is unnecessary – the real mystery is how so much beauty results from such an unpromising approach. One Nation is almost Ween-esque in its ability to confuse, irritate and beguile.
9. Charalambides – Exile (Kranky) 2LP
The wholly other avant rock duo’s best album yet? The words “peerless” and “singular” are doubtless used repeatedly elsewhere in this post but… what the hell: PEERLESS AND SINGULAR!
This is an unusually rugged and upfront Charalambides release, with Tom Carter spooling off endless desert psych/blues guitar lines while his ex, the divine Christine, croons diary entries close up into the mic. The results are at once stark and hypnotic. A tough trick to pull off but a damn effective one.
Five years in the making. A major release.
10. BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale Agency) LP
A truly epic and brilliantly structured ambient excursion from Scandinavia. A Static Place is lovelier and Cindytalk’s Hold Everything Dear (see below) is perhaps more ambitious but Big Shadow Montana has an impact all its own, perhaps because it manages to pull off the difficult balancing act between expansiveness and concision.
Sounds like a David Lynch movie. Let’s get this clear, though: it doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie, it sounds like the film itself. Does that sense? No? Well, neither does the record. This is that ol’ space shit!
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky) 2LP [& Dropped Pianos (Kranky) 12″/LP]
Ravedeath is basically a consolidation of the more-droney-less-glitchy work Tim Hecker has been doing since Harmony in Ultraviolet but that’s not to damn it with faint praise – this is a brilliant concentration of everything that has made his recent work so irresistible. Add strangely melancholy, faux-rave gated synths and you’ve got a very strong contender for a top 10 spot.
The Dropped Pianos mini LP provides some insight into the raw material behind Ravedeath and is an unusually “live”-sounding release for Hecker.
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures (Honest Jon’s) 2LP [& Vladislav Delay Quartet – s/t (Honest Jon’s) 2LP & Vladislav Delay – Vantaa (Raster-Noton) CD]
The Basic Channel man takes his trio on its most recognizably musical excursion yet. Horizontal Structures lacks the alien weirdness of previous releases but it’s irresistible and singular nonetheless.
The quartet led by MVOT percussionist Vladislav Delay is a much darker proposition, perhaps because of the the jet-black electronic madness unleashed by Mika Vainio (ex of Pan Sonic) throughout.
Vlad’s solo album on Raster-Noton seems a bit like a step back into his electronic comfort zone, after the more “live” sound of Tummaa. Maybe the Trio and Quartet are satiating his need to jam with “proper” musicians.
Belong – Common Era (Kranky) LP
Fans of Belong’s de facto Fennesz tribute album October Language looked askance at the New Orleans duo’s move into lo-fi pop territory but Common Era is actually the sound of a band coming into its own. Dreamy.
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD) 2LP
Gang Gang has been threatening to go pop for some time now and Eye Contact is pretty much that threat made a promise – parts of it sound like a dangerously out-of-control Black Eyed Peas! Somehow, though, this band has never quite delivered on its promise and it still seems like the best is yet to come.
Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Nice Up International) cassette
Incredibly beautiful and accomplished space rock from here in Vancouver. Essential for all you fans of Flying Saucer Attack and lovesliescrushing, assuming you can track down this (as yet) tape-only release. Vinyl releases in 2012?
Fennesz + Sakamoto – Flumina (Touch) 2CD
Christian Fennesz’s collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto have never been as satisfying as Carsten Nicolai’s and this is really just more of the same, only three times as long and with rather darker, more probing piano work from Sakamoto. Nice though.
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow 2LP [& Director’s Cut 2LP] (both Fish People)
The “real” new album, 50 Words for Snow, is like a more stripped-down version of the previous “proper” album, Aerial. It’s not up there with her best but it’s solid and often deeply evocative, other than the truly abysmal Elton John cameo. Director’s Cut is a reasonably successful attempt to redeem some of Kate’s lesser works – essential for committed fans but not for the rest of you.
- King Midas Sound – Without You (Hyperdub) 2LP
An album of remixes and “revoices”. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But listen, it’s a Kevin Martin album with Green Gartside from Scritti Politti singing on one song – it’s obviously going to be awesome. “Come and Behold” is SONG OF THE YEAR. The Hype Williams and Gang Gang Dance remixes are just gravy.
Cindytalk – Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego) 2LP
It was a good year for epic, highly structured ambient albums. This effort from art-goth veterans Cindytalk was up there with the best of ’em.
The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt) 2LP+CD
A slight step back artistically but a reliably vivifying collection of blissed out tech-house, all the same.
Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke – Indeed (Editions Mego) 2LP
Reliably excellent and abstract duo album from two avant rock/electronica A-listers.
James Blake – s/t (Universal) 2LP
Probably the most divisive album of the year – you either loved it or hated it. This here blog loved about 75% of it but the emo element and nagging repetition of lyrical phrases does grate after a while. Basically, “I Never Learned to Share” sucks.
Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs (130701) LP
Prepared piano, electronics, live drums and a whole bunch of lovely.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns (130701) 2LP
An oddly ominous-sounding anthem to the glory days of the union movement. It’s a movie soundtrack, so maybe it makes more sense with the visuals. In any case, a real kick in the arse for those who think this kind of post-minimalist eclecticism (see also Sylvain Chauveau, Max Richter etc.) is just so much apolitical pleasantness.
In Sepents & Seas – Notes from the Quiet Household (no label) download
More spooky soundscapes from the ever-reliable Charlie Martineau aka Esperik Glare. Name-your-price download from here.
Kelvox1 – Grazed Red (no label) download
Large scale contemporary UK post-rock. Not currently available, as the band is planning a hard-copy release for 2012. It’ll be worth the wait.
Loscil – coast/range/arc (Glacial Movements) CD
Another great ambient record from 2011. Vancouver’s Scott Morgan abandons the glitch beats and live instruments for some serious electronic flotation tank music. Glacial in its pace, crystalline in its clarity.
Half Man Half Biscuit – 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (Probe Plus) LP+CD
It’s hard to imagine anything more different from the Loscil album than this latest effort from England’s greatest comedy rock (sorry Taylor) institution. “L’Enfer c’est les Autres”, in particular, is absolutely pant-pissingly funny.
Xela – Exorcism (no label) download
Instead of releasing his final album as Xela as a nice vinyl edition on his own Type label, John Twells has chosen to go the free download route. This is slightly perplexing as, to these here ears, Exorcism sounds like the best Xela album evar! Dark but not as doomy as the title might suggest. More bliss, less horror and all the better for it.
Byetone – Symeta (Raster-Noton) LP
Another great year for Raster-Noton. Actually, it’s incredible how first-generation glitch labels like Raster and Mego have managed to stay relevant (Mille Plateaux, not so much). This is like a more organic, dubby version of the Alva Noto album. Other Raster artists (Frank Bretschneider, Senking…) have been exploring similar ground over the last couple of years, with mixed results. This immediately jumps out as a more successful expedition than most.
Lawrence English – The Peregrine (Experimedia) LP
English seems like someone who is yet to make his definitive musical statement. Reports that The Peregrine is his masterwork have been greatly exaggerated. Basically, it’s a more expansive take on the recent Tim Hecker sound. It’s not unsatisfying but you’re left with the feeling that he can and will do better.
Singles, EPs etc.
Burial – Street Halo (Hyperdub) 12″
Bloody hell, he just gets better! Albeit gradually. The post-dubstep pioneer is progressing at his own sweet pace. A tiny step for him is a giant thrill ride for the rest of us. This may be his most purely beautiful release so far.
Fennesz – Seven Stars (Touch) 10″
Very, very solid four-track release from the governor. The introduction of a steady, live drum beat on the title track is a nice touch but the rest is business as usual. Nothing wrong with that, in this case.
Shackleton – “Fireworks” 2×12″ & Actress – “Harrier ATTK”/”Gershwin” 12″ (both Honest Jon’s)
It was a stellar year for Honest Jon’s. “Fireworks” saw a return to form for ethno-dubstep lurker Shackleton, after his rather underwhelming Fabric mix CD, while Actress gave us more of his trademark hyper-compressed avant techno.
The Automatics Group – Auto 17 (Or) 12″
Generic analogue synthesizer drone continued to be big news this year but genuinely otherworldly synth weirdness was thin on the ground. Thank goodness, then, for this impeccably odd release from York’s Automatics Group.
Spell – Hex (Panospria) download
Thankfully, this is not the Spell which features (gag!) Boyd Rice. And sadly, it’s not a song-by-song reinterpretation of Hex by Bark Psychosis. Instead it’s a Vancouver duo purveying a hard-to-classify mix of effects-pedal haze, laptop beats and incantory vocals. Free download from here.
Andy Stott – Passed Me by (Modern Love) 12″/LP
It almost did! Andy Stott seems to be operating in the same hyper-compressed, sample-based, post-techno space as actress. Seductive stuff but – as with Actress – the deliberately excessive use of side-chaining compression can lead to ear fatigue pretty quickly. Perhaps that’s why both artists are concentrating on short-form releases, rather than full-length albums. Stott released another mini LP in 2011 (We Stay Together – haven’t heard it yet) and the two releases are now available together on a double CD.
Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian) CD
Probably the most important re-issue of all time, so why the fuck isn’t it available on vinyl?!? WHY???????????
Now, RELEASE THIS FUCKING THING ON VINYL, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!
My Bloody Valentine – Lost Tracks & Rare Cuts (Alti Philosophi) LP
A bootleg – obviously – but a very welcome one. True MBV fans will definitely need those recently-discovered demos on wax, after all.
***BEGIN EDIT – MAJOR OVERSIGHT***
The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet) 3CD
Something important always gets left out but the fact that this lavish box-set was absent from the original version of the list… well, that ain’t okay. Put it down to this being the year that the Bubblegum Cage III finally got sick of The Fall. Still, this is essential. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of 2010’s essential Wonderful & Frightening World of… 4CD set, this should still stand as a stern corrective to those who believe that The Fall ran out of steam after finally leaving Rough Trade for good or that Ersatz GB is the best Mark E. Smith can do. More, please!
***END EDIT – SORRY ABOUT THAT***
Arthur Russell – Let’s Go Swimming (Audika) 12″
A classic slab of electro-pop wildness, again and again and again. How can you resist?
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (Ba-Da-Bing) LP
Over the last few years, original vinyl copies of Talk Talk’s extraordinary swansong have been going for about $100. Earlier this year, an apparently rather dodgy bootleg seemed to be doing the rounds. Now, finally, we have this legit re-issue. Essential to own for all serious avant/post-rock fans. The hair-raising feedback solo on “After the Flood” would be worth the price of admission alone.
Slowdive – Pygmalion (“Creation”) 2LP
The label name is in quotes because this kinda has to be a bootleg. Ah well, it’s still nice to have the marvelously abstract final album from this legendary shoegaze band available on wax.
Hecker – Sun Pandamonium (Pan) LP
Seriously mind-bending EXTREME COMPUTER MUSIC from Florian Hecker, in seriously luxurious packaging. Very classy.
Lawrence English – Kiri No Oto (Digitalis) LP
A very welcome vinyl edition. Just as good as the actual new album.
Releases by connect_icut & on CSAF RecordsObviously, it would be a massive conflict of interests to include any connect_icut/CSAF-related stuff in any of the actual lists. But it would be remiss not to encourage you all to grip these free downloads…
connect_icut – Let’s Hear it for the Vague Blur (Panospria) download
The fifth album by connect_icut, gloriously remastered by Joshua “Magneticring” Stevenson. Imagine a mid point between those Heckers, Tim and Florian. Now, get it here.
Not Me – 2011 12s Vols. 1-5 (CSAF) downloads
Deep, dark Chain Reaction-style beats plus whatever the remixers felt like doing. Said remixers included Loscil, Fieldhead, Kuma and Vincent Parker. That’s right: Loscil! Get them all here.
Not Me – “lss (Lim’s Verges of Tears)” from Vol. 2
connect_icut – They Showed Me the Secret Beaches (CSAF) download
The fourth and best connect_icut album, originally (and still) available as a vinyl LP, now available as a high-quality, full-album download FOR A DOLLAR! How can you resist? Get it here.
The Fall – Ersatz GB (Cherry Red) LP
Look, every Fall album has its moments but it’s hard to make a case for this rather half-hearted exercise. Down there with Are You are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC.
Mountains – Air Museum (Thrill Jockey) LP
Okay, so it’s not that bad but it is a dispiriting exercise in unimaginative analogue synth drone. This Brooklyn duo has spent years sticking to its guns, gradually building an audience for its consitently-unfashionable-but-equally-consistently-affecting mix of field recordings, acoustic guitar picking and electronic sound manipulation. Why jump on someone else’s bandwagon at this stage? And why do it so clumsily?
What Didn’t Get Heard Yet?
Oh, all sorts of “exotic” music from other cultures, that footwork business, various synthpop ladies, countless releases on Dekorder, Editions Mego, Kranky, Raster-Noton, Touch and Type plus stuff by Actress, Anarchist Republic of Bzzz, Beequeen, The Caretaker, Destroyer, Hype Williams, Giuseppe Ielasi, Mount Kimbie, Nochexxx, No UFOs, Oval, Pinch & Shackleton, Andy Stott, SunnO))) meets Nurse with Wound and goodness knows what else.
The Oval is obviously this year’s big missing piece. As previously mentioned, O was number two in last year’s top 10. OvalDNA, a 2CD collection of rarities, unreleased tracks, samples and software seems to have been released in Europe at the end of last month but there doesn’t appear to be any North American release planned, let alone a vinyl release (which would be technically impossible, to a certain extent). Anyone out there heard it?
Hard to recall. Fennesz and Philip Jeck in London stands out as a memorable highlight, as does Oval and Mountains in Vancouver. Going to see Prince this week!
Bert Jansch 1943-2011
Trish Keenan 1968-2011
Other Lists You Should Take a Look at
(Updated regularly – more coming soon)
Blissblog (Simon Reynolds)
Everything’s Exploding (members only)
Largehearted Boy (list of lists)
Metacritic (chart of charts)
You may remember this here blog’s recent year-end roundup post freely acknowledging that there were a lot of intriguing 2010 releases that were still in the pile marked “to hear”. Naturally, the Christmas season – with all it’s accompanying free time and Albums of the Year lists – provided a great opportunity to catch up on some listening. Often, this meant finally giving a serious listen to things that reputable sources had been bigging up for months. In other cases, it meant tracking down physical copies of recent releases by favourite artists. Most of all, though, it meant having lots of great new (and old) music to listen to. Here are three of the most notable discoveries…
Forest Swords – Dagger Paths (Old English Spelling Bee) LP
It’s ridiculous that the Bubblegum Cage III slept on this one for so long. Perhaps the association with a record label primarily known for pumping out lo-fi nostalgia rock was the off-putting factor here. Dagger Paths has been described as a cross between the modish “hynagogic pop” sound and Burial-style avant dubstep. The hypnagogic comparison doesn’t really ring true, though. There’s no sign of fuggy 80s pop pastiche here. Furthermore, despite being connected with on one of the US underground’s hippest imprints, Forest Swords is a British artist and – more to the point – Dagger Paths is a thoroughly British sounding record. Much of the music presented on this mini album is strongly reminiscent of pioneering UK post-rock acts like Scorn and Moonshake (and if it recalls an American band, it’s the UKPR-flavoured Nudge, whose As Good as Gone was this hear blog’s Album of the Year in 2009). Apparently, though, it was post-punk that was the major influence here. Certainly, there’s a bit of the Fall sound here, most clearly audible in those Stephen Hanley-esque bass stylings.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, Dagger Paths is right up this here blog’s alley. So much so, in fact, that it definitely would have made it into the 2010 top ten if it had been given a fair hearing before that list was compiled. Apologies to all the people who recommended it earlier in the year.
Forest Swords – “If Your Girl” (an Aaliyah cover!)
Grasslung – Sincere Void (Root Strata) CD
Again, this is an album that some extremely hip listeners were pushing last year and one that nobody among BBCIII’s massed editorial ranks actually got around to hearing until January. Doh! So much beauty ignored for so long!! Basically, Sincere Void is a more analogue-focused take on the recent Fennesz sound. In fact, opening track “Scarred Hands They Drifted” could be straight off Venice. That chord sequence sounds seriously familiar. What this album most closely recalls, though, is the Tim Hecker-influenced guitar atmospherics of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Love is a Stream – which makes sense because it was released on Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata label.
So, while this may not be one of the more original releases of recent times, it is one of the loveliest. Yep, definitely should have caught onto this one sooner. Apologies, again, to all those who recommended it way back when.
The Fall – The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall [Omnibus Edition] (Beggars Banquet) 4CD + book
This is the big one, in more ways than one. Four CDs of remastered album tracks, singles, B sides, rarities, radio sessions and live recordings orbiting the serious gravity of what anyone who isn’t a twat knows to be The Fall’s best album. At the end of 2010, it was looking like Editions Mego’s 2LP pressing of Fennesz’s Endless Summer was going to take the prize for Not Only Re-Issue of the Year but Also Best Re-Issue Evar! Well, this one is even better. The Bubblegum Cage III doesn’t usually discuss re-issues in a best-of-the-year context but this one is just too darn choice to pass up on.
The only real quibble here is that the oral history presented in the accompanying book seems designed specifically to reinforce well-established but short-sighted critical dogmas, when it should have been the perfect opportunity to challenge these very dogmas. Wonderful & Frightening…, according to the history presented here, represents the beginning of The Fall’s “pop period” – catchy choruses came into play as never before, producer John Leckie made the band sound clean ‘n’ tuneful and “Bug Day” was just a bit of filler. This, of course, is bullshit. In reality, Wonderful & Frightening… is essentially a better realised Hex Enduction Hour – an onslaught of monumental avant rock barbarism and sparse, abstract melancholia. Are tracks like”Lay of the Land” and the contemporary single “No Bulbs” really any more approachable, than “Totally Wired” or “How I Wrote Elastic Man”? The stuff about Leckie putting the band in tune is particularly galling, as he famously did the exact opposite – knocking all the guitars slightly out of tune, to give the band a bigger, rawer sound. Oh well, British rock historians have never let reality get in the way of a good party line, have they?
Still, it goes without saying that this is a 100% essential purchase for all Fall fans and anyone with a serious interest in rock history. Huge. The hugest.